A Few Glimpses into Our Life 17 Months After Adoption

Here we are nearly 17 months as a family of five and I honestly can’t believe how much we have all changed. Let me give you a few glimpses into our transition…

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Glimpse #1: Going to get ice cream can turn into a conversation about birth moms. Well, at least that is what happened on our car ride to our favorite local creamery. Here is how it all played out…

“I’m just so happy!” Ian shouted from the back seat on the way home from Caitlin’s baseball game.

“Me, too!” I responded as I drove along thinking about how it was almost Friday and that I had nearly made it to the weekend.

With even more excitement, Ian shouted, “I’m so happy, I want to see my birth mom!”

My mouth dropped and I looked in the review mirror to see a huge smile on Ian’s face, just as Caitlin turned around from the passenger seat to face Ian and stated empathetically,

“You can’t. She might be dead. And China is a really a big country, I doubt we could even find her.”

WAITTT!!! WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE?!?!?! Let me get this straight, Ian wants to see his birth mom because he is so happy that we are getting ice cream. Not how I had imagined the topic would arise. And now…Caitlin is telling him that he can’t because…ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!

I thought about all the situations and topics covered in the adoption books I read or the classes I had taken. Nope, not one covered ice cream happiness and birth moms. So what do I do?!?!?! All I could do…breathe. I took a really slow… deep…breath.

“Ian, I want you to meet your birth mom some day and I promise you that I will try to help you find her.”

“Caitlin’s right. She might be dead,” Ian stated sadly.

“If she is, I will help you with that too. All I know right now is that I am your everyday mom, and I am so lucky because I get to love and hug you every day.”

Glimpse #2: Watching Ian do flips in the water can teach me lessons about life.

In January, we went to Mexico on our first family vacation. The warmth and sunshine was a wonderful escape from the harsh cold New England winter. Everyone’s favorite activity was playing in the pools. Ian loved learning to do flips in the water and was working hard to perfect this new skill.

“Mom, watch me do three flips!”

I stood poolside in amazement as Ian fluidly and effortlessly completed three backward flips in a row under the water- A TRIPLE FLIP! I honestly couldn’t believe it. Why so amazed? Well, to start Ian had learned to swim only six months earlier, and he never had a formal swim lesson in his life.

I asked him to do it again so I could film it. Here it is:

Can you feel the joy?

Later that night, I’ve watched the video over and over again. Then, I realized that with each backward flip Ian was teaching me a lesson.

  • Flip #1: Let go! Just let go and let life happen.
  • Flip #2: Have hope. No matter where we start, there is always hope that we can do more and be more.
  • Flip #3: Believe in your own potential. The only limitation is your mindset.

Glimpse #3: Love is powerful.

With Ian in our lives for 17 months, we laugh harder, say ‘I love you’ more, and take simple things for granted less. Ian has shown us that when you let love into your life, joy follows. Yes, there are unexpected hard moments that make you grow in ways you never thought possible but that’s life. So, let the love in!

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Learning to Fly

“Mom, I have a question.”

This is how most conversations start with Ian. His questions range from “Mom, how did we get our last name?” to “Mom, do you know what superpower I want to have?” Most of the questions occur in our minivan as I race around after work driving kids to basketball practice, picking up a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store for dinner, and thinking about those work emails that I should return.

On this quieter Monday afternoon, I was headed to the library with Ian and Caitlin to drop off books that were due when Ian announced from the back, “Mom, I have a question.”

“Yes,” I responded.

“Do you think I can be a pilot in the military?”

I pause. I think about the military and their physical requirements to join. I think about how one learns to fly. I think about Ian’s limb difference. I also think that I am really tired, that I didn’t have my afternoon tea, and I really don’t know the answer to this question. So, I sigh and say…

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“Well, I don’t know. The military has special rules about becoming a pilot and I am not sure if they would let you.” I pause and sigh again. Then, I add the words that make my shoulders sag and my heart ache.

“I am not sure if they let people with limb differences learn to fly.”

Silence.

“I think you’re wrong, Mom,” Caitlin states breaking the silence as she looks at me with disgust. “I think anyone can learn to fly.”

“Maybe,” I reply feeling exhausted. Exhausted because this territory of raising children with exceptionalities never lets you retreat. Exhausted because fear seeps into every crevice of your life leaving you questioning your actions, worried about their future, and so wishing you had time for a comforting afternoon tea.

The discussion ends abruptly when I pull into a parking spot in front of the library. Distracted by the idea of picking out new books, Ian and Caitlin jump out of the van and run into the library. I walk slowly behind them wishing I had better answers for his questions.

7 books, 1 cup of tea, and 2 cookies later, back at home I hear a ding.  I ignore it and keep typing my response to a work email. Then Caitlin appears, standing over me at the end of the couch, she asks, “Did you see what I sent you?”

“No. I will in a minute.” Intrigued because Caitlin rarely sends messages from her iPad, I set my laptop down and look at my message. Here is what she sent:

See, Mom, Ian can learn to fly.

I have never loved Caitlin’s YouTube watching more. Jessica Cox, I have never loved being wrong more. Lastly, I have never been more proud of my kids and how they see the world! I hope they learn to fly and prove me wrong over and over again.

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When I took this photo, I thought I was capturing a moment of summertime joy. Now, I realize what they were trying to tell me. Ian was shouting, “Mom, Never doubt me!” Caitlin was growling, “Mom, I am more fierce than you ever imagined.” And, Nolan was sighing, “Mom, when will you ever learn? Trust us. We can do anything.”

How Long Did It Take?

Typically, when I engage in a conversation about the adoption of my youngest son, Ian, I am eventually asked, “How long did it take?” Since November is Adoption Awareness Month, I thought I would finally answer this question honestly. So here is my raw, unfiltered answer:

It took a lifetime to adopt Ian.

It took a lifetime because…

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It took falling in love with a man who embraced the idea of creating a family in whatever ways we were blessed.

It took having two challenging pregnancies filled with moments that terrified me. 

It took two premature deliveries, a stay in the intensive care nursery, and an ambulance ride with a newborn.

It took dreaming of having a third child.

 

It took being told we weren’t ready to adopt a sweet little girl from Korea.

It took tears and heartbreak as I recycled the paperwork confirming our failure.

It took a move to a new town.

 

It took a prayer in the quiet of the morning.

 

It took the courage to open my heart and an email.

It took a long Sunday walk with my husband.

It took talking with our son and daughter about a little boy with a limb difference across the world in need of a family.

It took my daughter saying, “We need to be his family. We know he can do anything.”

 

It took a nerve-wracking phone call to the adoption agency.

It took sharing this very personal dream with close friends to get our initial three letters of reference.

 

It took letters from our police department, our employers, and our doctors just to start.

It took ensuring every document was properly notarized.

It took trusting the UPS service representative with our life and dream in an envelope.

It took waiting and waiting.

 

It took getting a US seal on every document.

It took more waiting.

 

It took a code from the US consulate.

It took a visa from China.

It took a 16-hour flight over the top of the world.

It took sleepless nights.

 

It took courage and faith in the power of love.

 

It took a door to open and a little boy to walk through it.

It took the tears of the nannies who loved him for the first seven years of his life.

It took the incredible love of his birth mother.

 

So how long did it take? It took a lifetime. It also took the most intense love I have ever felt.

However, if you ask, I will simply smile and say, “It took some time…about a year.”

But please know, adoption is the journey of a lifetime.

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The Why

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Nick Springer, two-time wheelchair rugby Paralympian. This photo and Caitlin’s experience with it was why I started writing. Photo Credit: Vanity Fair

When I started this blog, I thought I knew why I was writing. My “Why?” was to raise awareness about athletes of all abilities. It was to share the incredible sports stories of what is possible when we redefine ability. My plan was to change people’s lives by changing how they viewed the world. My “Why?” was never intended to change me, my life, and how I viewed the world, but it has. And now, my blog must change…evolve to include this new perspective.

It seems a natural entry point for this new additional focus of the blog to be the answer to this question: Why did you adopt? I know many people have wondered “Why?”, however, only a few people have actually asked me about the decision. It’s the elephant in the room. For many, it didn’t seem to make sense. We had two beautiful healthy children, one boy, and one girl. We had successful careers, a nice home, etc. It appeared we had achieved the American Dream.

So “Why?” Well, the answer is easy because we were fulfilled and we realized that our dream was different. Our dream included finding a meaningful way to share our life, our children, our home, and our love. So, because we had two beautiful children, a home filled with love, careers and so much more, we decided to open our hearts to adopting an older child.

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Here is the photo of Ian’s smiling face from the email that changed my “Why.”

I know. This answer leads to the next question. “Why Ian?” Another easy answer. “The Universe.” Yup, you heard me, the Universe is responsible for Ian joining our family. Don’t believe me?  Then, how else do you explain that when you randomly open an email about a boy from China in need of a family he has the same birthday as your oldest son?  How else do you explain that as you read the description of this little seven-year-old boy he sounds like a perfect combination of the children already in your home? How do you explain that when you continue reading you learn he has an upper limb difference and you have spent the last two years hosting a blog on athletes with physical exceptionalities? Not the Universe? Then, tell me…Why else would you cry and talk to a computer screen saying, “I think we are your family,” when you learn that he has been asking the nannies in his orphanage to find a family for him? Why else would your heart literally burst with love when you look at the smiling face of this little boy who lives halfway across the world? I’m telling you… the Universe built my family. Sometimes, things are bigger than just you and you need to simply embrace it.

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Here is my family built by love, hope, and the Universe. Photo Credit: Deb Hanna Photography

So there you have it, the start of my new “Why?” and adventure in blogging about adoption. Before I go, I do have a few people to thank. Laurie, thank you for helping me give myself the permission to share the stories that I am scared to write. Brene Brown, Anne LamottGlennon Doyle, and Elizabeth Gilbert, thank you for honestly sharing your stories and leading the way in living a heartstrong life. Your writings give me the courage to share my own. Seth, thank you for walking this life’s journey with me. Nolan, Caitlin, and Ian, thank you for giving me the courage to be your mom. Readers, thank you for your support. I hope you enjoy this new addition to my blog. If you have any thoughts, stories or ideas to share, please let me know.

Keep Believing in the Possible!

Jen

 

Riding the Waves with AmpSurf

We heard about AmpSurf from a neighbor the summer before Ian joined our family. When she told me about their offerings, I couldn’t help but think that it was a little bit of fate. You see, AmpSurf is a non-profit organization that offers free adaptive surfing clinics to amputees on both the east and west coasts of the US, and they host one in Maine where we love to spend the summer months.

During a snowy January day, I registered for the August clinic hoping he would come to love the cold waters of Maine. Eight months later, after learning to swim and armed with a cozy black wetsuit, Ian was eager to try out a sport that his big sister loves.

The morning started with a warm welcome and an announcement that the best surfer on the beach is the one with the biggest smile. Caitlin leaned over to me and whispered, “I think that will be Ian.” The announcements were then followed by some dry land instruction on a wobble board and safety tips.  Then, in heats, each surfer clad in a brightly colored AmpSurf shirt hit the waves with their team. A team consisted of one surf instructor and four water volunteers who guided participants on their ride into the beach.

Ian was in the green heat and his instructor was Steve. He told us he was determined to stand up, and on his first wave, he DID. In fact, on every wave, he popped up and got into his best surfing stance. He did have one big wipe out, but a volunteer was right there and scooped him out of the water quickly. Then, in full Ian fashion, he stood up proudly and with a huge smile on his faced waved to us.

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Ian catching his first wave with AmpSurf with the help of Steve and his team of volunteers. Photo Credit: Proud Mom

As Caitlin, Nolan, and I watched Ian surf from the shoreline, we jumped, shouted, and cheered for him. There were even a few proud Momma tears. I just couldn’t believe how far my little boy had come! One volunteer working with Ian ran up and said to us, “I am not sure who had more joy on their face, Ian or all of you. This is just so beautiful!”

And it was beautiful, all of it. Even Ian agreed. On the car ride home, when I asked him what he thought of the AmpSurf clinic, he said, “Mom, it was beautiful.”

Surprised by his response, I asked, “Why? What made it beautiful?”

“It was so beautiful to see all of those people surfing. Some had one leg. Some were missing two legs, but everyone got to surf. Everyone got to have fun.”

Thank you AmpSurf for providing Ian, our family, and all of the participants with an incredible morning! We are already looking forward to next year!

If you are interested in learning more about AmpSurf, donating, or volunteering, please contact them at surf@ampsurf.org.

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Ian waiting for his turn with Caitlin and Nolan as the blue heat heads out into the waves. Photo Credit: Mom